Sheriff’s office aims to aid area’s homeless population

Targeting the significant homeless population in northwest Harris County—including along FM 1960 between Hwy. 249 and I-45—the Harris County sheriff’s office created the Homeless Outreach Team in November.

HCSO has dedicated two deputies, a sergeant and one lieutenant to the HOT, which is a private-public partnership between HCSO and local nonprofits. The program’s goal is to divert the homeless population from jail cells by connecting them with social services, HCSO Lt. Robert Henry said.

“We wanted to look at a different way to help people rather than to criminalize them,” Henry said. “This program will get people off the street and into temporary housing.”

Sheriff’s office aims to aid area’s homeless population

The HOT will also address the intersection of homelessness and mental illness, Henry said. Officers in the program have been trained to recognize and respond to mental illness and have taken a 30-day course in advanced first aid from Cypress Creek EMS, he said.

“Isn’t it time that we decriminalize mental illness and homelessness and start treating them for what they really are?” Henry said.

Helping the homeless

Although homelessness has declined overall in the Greater Houston area, officials said the problem persists in unincorporated areas of Harris County. 

FM 1960 features the largest concentration of homelessness in the county— especially near Cutten and Kuykendahl roads—where panhandling and pitched tents cause mobility concerns, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said.

Economic factors and the gentrification of Houston’s inner city have pushed the homeless issue out to Spring and Klein, said Carole Little, Northwest Assistance Ministry’s president and CEO.

“There’s been a tremendous migration from inner city to the suburbs as rent has increased, and the inner city started to renovate and taxes were raised,” Little said. “Rent goes up, and [residents] end up migrating to where they can afford housing. [FM]1960 has seen a tremendous increase in people living below [the] poverty line. And many people are one crisis [away] from homelessness. The No. 1 reason people become homeless is economics.”

Looking to address the growing need, the HOT’s two deputies will be tasked with meeting homeless people, building a rapport by learning their stories and assessing what each individual needs to transition into temporary housing. Homeless people will only be arrested if they are committing a crime, Henry said.

The program provides the homeless an opportunity to meet with civilian service providers. HCSO has partnered with several organizations—including Spring and Klein nonprofits Northwest Assistance Ministries and Hope Haven—to provide immediate services in areas, such as mental health, substance abuse and assistance for veterans.

However, some homeless people may just need help procuring an ID card to enter a shelter or apply for jobs, HCSO Deputy Thomas Gilliland said.

In just the first two weeks of HOT’s implementation, HCSO deputies helped transition 18 homeless people into temporary housing, Henry said.

He expects this number to grow as the program becomes more ingrained in the community. The HCSO will track the number of homeless people who are contacted, the number of people who accept the proposition and which social service they were diverted to.

“Isn’t it time that we decriminalize mental illness and homelessness and start treating them for what they really are?”

—Lt. Robert Henry, Harris County sheriff's office

Refining the tactics

The HOT represents a different approach to law enforcement in Harris County where officers attempt to improve the community as opposed to only enforcing the law, Henry said.

Other law enforcement agencies, such as the Harris County Precinct 4 constable’s office, will interact differently with the homeless in northwest Harris County.

“We’ve written tickets and arrested them for [outstanding] warrants,” Herman said. “Now we’re going to use the [Homeless Outreach Team] as a resource. What we found is that you get them out of the road, and they’re back in the road the next day. It’s a public safety issue.”

The HOT is a natural progression from the Crisis Intervention Response Team, which was founded in April to divert mentally ill people who face minor charges into treatment rather than county jail cells, Henry said.

Following an August meeting of HCSO officials in which Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman showed his support for the HOT program, Henry said he began planning the program’s rollout.

Although the number of homeless individuals in Harris and Fort Bend counties have decreased by 46 percent from 2011 to 2015, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, the number of homeless individuals in Harris County Jail decreased by only 20.4 percent during that timeframe.

Saving tax dollars

The HOT program received $110,000 from private donations to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Foundation. The donations allowed the agency to purchase a van and a utility task vehicle that can reach wooded or wet areas. The program’s only costs to taxpayers are the salaries of the participating officers. 

The program is also financially beneficial to taxpayers, who are footing the bill for Harris County jails, Henry said.

“Receiving three tickets or spending a night in jail won’t stop them from doing the thing that’s feeding them,” said Kristyn Stillwell, president and executive director of Hope Haven. “By offering these services, it kind of circumvents the system and fixes it from the back door. It took these HOT teams to get the support we need on the streets.”



Pier 1 Imports in in the process of closing 450 stores nationwide. (Hunter Marrow/Community Impact)
Pier 1 Imports to close Willowbrook location Feb. 26

The home decor store is offering 60% off most remaining merchandise.

Undrai Fizer and Natali Hurtado are running in the Democratic primary March 3 for state representative District 126.
Q&A: Democratic candidates for state District 126 representative discuss flooding, public education

Two candidates are running in the District 126 Democratic primary March 3.

Fortress BeerWorks offers a taproom, featuring beers brewed on-site, as well as an outdoor patio and food trucks. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Fortress BeerWorks to celebrate first anniversary in Spring with axe throwing, crawfish March 21

From 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Fortress BeerWorks wll host live music by Isaac Hoskins and the Brandon McDermott Band, axe throwing from Epic Axe, food from Crawfish by Jeff, a special beer release and beer specials throughout the day.

(Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State House District 141 Democratic candidates discuss the nation's health care system, critical initiatives

Two candidates are vying for a place as the Democratic candidate for state House District 141 in the March 3 primary election.

In-store items range from Kendra Scott jewelry and Sherri Hill gowns to Kate Spade handbags and Tory Burch shoes. (Courtesy Karen's Closet)
Karen's Closet in Spring remodels store, expands formalwear selection

Owned by Karen Kastner, the upscale resale shop has been in the Spring and Klein area for 13 years and offers clothing for women of all shapes and sizes, as well as designer handbags, shoes and jewelry.

Security fencing is installed around Hamilton Elementary School in fall 2019. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
Cy-Fair ISD provides timeline, security project updates for 2019 bond

Work is already underway on projects included in Cy-Fair ISD’s 2019 bond.

The men's salon offered a variety of services, including shaves. (Courtesy 18|8 Fine Men's Salon)
18|8 Fine Men's Salon closes Champion Forest location

On Dec. 31, 18|8 Fine Men’s Salon closed its Champion Forest salon location.

The Louisiana-based sports bar will offer Cajun cuisine and seafood, such as gumbo and po'boys, as well as burgers, salads and wraps. (Courtesy Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar)
Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar announces March opening in Spring

Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar is slated to open a new location March 9 in Grand Parkway Marketplace II.

Massage Heights Spring Town Center
Massage Heights reaches 10 years in Spring Town Center

Massage Heights offers a variety of massage types, including prenatal and deep tissue.

Sears in the Deerbrook Mall is set to close in April. The Sears in the Willowbrook Mall will also close. (Courtesy Google Maps)
BREAKING: Houston-area Sears stores to close at Deerbrook, Willowbrook malls

Sears is set to close anchor stores in two Houston-area malls by April, according to a statement from Transformco, the company behind Sears and Kmart.

Texadelphia to celebrate one year in Vintage Park

Texadelphia is an Austin-based eatery specializing in cheesesteaks with a Texas twist.

cory melancon stone moves
Longstanding indoor rock climbing gym Stone Moves closes on FM 1960

The business first opened in 2004 and offered rope climbing and bouldering for athletes of all ages.

Back to top